• Community
  • Healthcare
  • Marine Conservation

Six critical global issues: What are the world’s biggest problems and how can I help?

Article by Jana Jansen van Vuuren

Jana Jansen van Vuuren

Posted: September 17, 2021

The images in this article were taken pre-COVID-19. 

Have you ever wanted to make a positive impact in the world, but not known where to start? Maybe you’ve felt overwhelmed by information. That’s why we’ve created this summary of six major global issues, and what’s being done about them.

The news is packed with statistics and updates on the challenges we face as global citizens. Sometimes it can seem as though there are too many – from the climate crisis, to the high rate of gender inequality around the world, to many people living without access to medical care.

Where do you even start? Which issues are the most urgent? And can one person, really, truly, make that much of a contribution? 

But working to alleviate global issues doesn’t have to be that confusing or stressful. There are well-established structures in place to help you see where help and resources are needed.

There are also organisations, like GVI, that can help you contribute towards sustainable, community-led projects that take significant strides towards resolving these problems.

Addressing the 22 global issues

The United Nations (UN) currently lists 22 “Global Issues”. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Rather, it serves as an overview of some of the major issues all global citizens should be aware of.

The UN has also set 17 goals to be achieved by 2030. These correspond with the most important issues of our time, and are known as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

There are many organisations that align their mission to these goals. For instance, all GVI’s work is guided by a commitment to the UN SDGs.

To learn more about our commitment to furthering progress on the goals set by the UN, watch our video below.



Here are six of the world’s biggest challenges, and how you can be part of the solution.

Global environmental issues

There are three major environmental issues listed by the UN. These include threats to habitats and organisms on land and underwater, as well as resource depletion.

1) Habitat and biodiversity loss

Despite the Asian elephant being endangered, they are still treated unethically in some situations. In an ideal world, all animals would be able to live in their natural habitats. However, we understand that some animal facilities play an important role in conservation. This is why GVI supports an ethical elephant sanctuary in Thailand where these animals can be protected in their forest habitat.

And forests are key to producing the air we breathe, yet between 2015 and 2020, the rate of deforestation was approximately 10 million hectares of forests per year.

Extinctions are happening at alarmingly fast rates. Not only are we losing flora and fauna, we are also damaging our ecosystems, and throwing them out of balance – the effects of which we cannot anticipate due to the intricate and complex nature of these systems.



Many organisations have been working to protect local ecosystems for years. This includes the UN, which has set up specific objectives under UN SDG 15: Life on Land.

You can join us at GVI as we further these objectives, through volunteering on one of our wildlife conservation programs. On each of these programs, you’ll gather data, which will help to inform local wildlife park or sanctuary managers.

Data will also be used to present policies to other organisations and governments in order to preserve habitats around the world. Volunteer to help protect the Amazon cloud forests in Peru, lemurs in Madagascar, jaguars or sea turtles in Costa Rica, elephants in Thailand, or cheetahs in South Africa.

2) Ocean conservation

Most of our planet is covered in water. We depend on the ocean to maintain our rainwater systems and many populations rely on it for food and income. The ocean also absorbs carbon dioxide and produces more than half of the oxygen on Earth.

But despite its importance, the ocean is under threat. Overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices are causing the endangerment and extinction of many marine species – something that has recently been highlighted in the Netflix documentary “Seaspiracy”.

Global warming has caused an increase in coral bleaching, where reefs lose vital nutrients and can no longer sustain the ecosystems that depend on them. 



Commercial fishing practices dominate the market and inhibit the economic progress of local fishers, who can’t compete with these boats.

And with the effectiveness of modern-day fishing techniques comes the problem of bycatch: Where marine species such as dolphins and turtles are caught in commercial fishing nets, and are later discarded.

Pollutants like boat fuel, pesticides, fertiliser, sewage, and plastics cause “dead zones” – spots where no organism can live – to form in the ocean.

The UN is dealing with this problem through objectives set under UN SDG 14: Life Below Water. GVI runs marine and coastal conservation programs in Belize, Greece, Canary Islands, Fiji, Seychelles, Mexico and Thailand.

At each of these locations, we collect data concerning the type and number of species in the area. We also arrange and manage regular beach and seabed cleanups.

3) Water scarcity


As with food, there is actually enough fresh water for each person currently living on the planet. However, access to that water is not always possible for everyone.

Issues such as poor infrastructure, displacement, and conflict mean that many people often have to use unsafe water sources. This is a clear health and sanitation risk.

About two billion people still use a source that is contaminated with human waste, and about the same amount don’t have access to adequate toilet facilities.  

The UN has set the goal of ensuring equal access to water and sanitation for all. This is represented by UN SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation.

On all our community development projects across the world, we work with local partners to complete infrastructure development projects to increase the community’s access to clean water.

In both South Africa and Fiji, we have previously supported the community on projects to construct rainwater harvesting systems.

Food security


The number of hungry people in the world has increased over the past few years. One in nine people in the world go hungry each day, and suffer from nutritional deficiencies as a result. 

Food security has been one of the biggest threats to the overall health of the human population for many years, more so than malaria, tuberculosis or HIV. And, 2020 and 2021 saw the most severe increase in global food insecurity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, impacting vulnerable households almost everywhere.  

Current estimates show that 957 million people across 93 countries do not have enough to eat.

So, what is the problem? How can it be 2021 and people are still going hungry?

The problem is not that we aren’t producing enough food, but rather that people lack access to food. Many people do not have enough money to purchase food and cannot grow their own.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), countries with the highest level of food insecurity also have the highest outward migration of refugees



World hunger has steadily decreased over the past decade, but is on the rise once again. And the number of displaced persons who suffer the most from food insecurity is increasing too.  

The UN is working to reduce the number of hungry people to zero by 2030. This is represented by UN SDG 2: Zero Hunger. 

GVI runs community development projects around the world, in Thailand, India, Nepal, Mexico, Costa Rica and South Africa, that feature many community garden projects. Community vegetable gardens can provide the choice of a nutritious, natural treat over a pre-packaged sugary treat.

They also enable individuals to make sustainable lifestyle changes in the community. The garden means that the community is less dependent on the ups and downs of the international market and the low production of in-country farmers.

Major global health issues


Besides malnutrition, there are many other issues affecting health on a global scale. In the past, the main topic of focus was communicable diseases like hepatitis, cholera, malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.

Increased access to clean water and improved education around proper sanitation has resulted in an overall decrease in the prevalence of transferable diseases worldwide. But, while current strategies to prevent disease are working, efforts to improve sanitation shouldn’t slow down.

While teaching good hygiene practices is still beneficial, the importance of good nutritional education and preventing personal harm is now emphasised.

For example, explaining the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption, smoking tobacco, using unsafe cooking fuels, driving recklessly, and walking across a busy highway, is imperative.

Likewise, many low-income countries lack emergency response resources. This means that providing opportunities for community members to learn first aid skills can help to save lives.  

But while the focus of the global healthcare community has now shifted to non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, communicable diseases remain a burden in low-income settings.

Non-communicable diseases account for 71% of all deaths annually, and 77% of these occur in low- and middle-income countries.

Today however, the most overwhelming threat to our overall global health and well-being is the COVID-19 pandemic that we’ve been facing since its discovery in Wuhan, China in late 2019. 

Most people infected with COVID-19 will experience mild-to-moderate respiratory illness and recover quickly without needing any special treatment. However, people over 60, and those with underlying health conditions are more likely to develop serious illnesses. 



And, it’s not just people’s physical health that has taken a knock because of COVID-19. There have also been serious socio-economic side effects that will further contribute to health issues, including mental health issues, for a long time to come.  

COVID-19 spreads mainly through drops of saliva from the nose and mouth, so it’s important that you also practise good etiquette when coughing or sneezing. The most effective way to protect yourself and others from infection is by wearing a face mask, washing your hands regularly and not touching your face. 

And, the best way to prevent and slow down the spread of this virus worldwide is to be well informed

The UN tackles the problems of health and well-being under Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being. The World Health Organisation (WHO) oversees the objectives set under this goal.

GVI helps to further the aims of this goal through public health projects. Our public health projects are available in Thailand, Ghana, Fiji, South Africa, Nepal and Mexico. These projects all promote health and wellness through education, and do not involve any hands-on or diagnostic medical work, as per our ethical guidelines

During these projects we conduct workshops with students and community members to teach them about preventive healthcare practices. This involves WASH (water and sanitation for health) classes where we emphasise the importance of washing hands and brushing teeth, as well as healthy cooking and eating workshops.

Through our sports programs, we promote the importance of daily exercise. We also run maternal and child health, as well as first aid workshops.

Global child health and primary education


Children are key to our success, yet many children across the world don’t have some of their most basic needs met. 

Child health and education go hand in hand. Malnutrition of children leads to permanent physiological damage, known colloquially as “stunting”. Children who are hungry cannot concentrate and, thus, cannot learn. Children who go chronically hungry for long periods of time can develop difficulties in their learning abilities and concentration due to hunger. This means they might not be able to achieve their academic or professional potential.

Even when children are attending school, the quality of their education might be poor, or educational capacity and resources may be limited. This means that they might leave school without the necessary numeracy or literacy skills required. It’s estimated that approximately 600 million children are not mastering basic mathematics and literacy while at school.

The UN aims to combat this trend in low-quality learning by uniting organisations under UN SDG 4: Quality Education. GVI helps to further this objective through our child development projects in Nepal, South Africa, Fiji, India, Costa Rica, Thailand, Mexico and Laos, as well as our teaching projects in Costa Rica, Thailand, Laos, Nepal, Madagascar and South Africa.

The need for gender equality


Although women make up approximately half of the population, there have historically been social barriers to economic and personal freedom for women. While much has been done to alleviate this, there is still quite a way to go, especially in low- and middle-income settings. 

Women are disempowered from a young age, when they are held back from attending school for financial reasons, or because of the perception that their education does not matter. Globally, women still earn less than men, and women with children tend to earn even less. This is a waste of potential and hampers progress on obstacles to global prosperity.

Women’s empowerment has far-reaching benefits for the world. It has been estimated that if women farmers could be given the same resources as men, there would be between 100 and 150 million fewer hungry people in the world.

Women across the world are often the caretakers of household health, which means that if all women are taught effective healthcare practices, global well-being statistics could be altered dramatically. Children of educated mothers are also less likely to be malnourished and survive past the age of five.

But, it isn’t simply the lack of access to education and financial resources that hinders women. Cardiovascular disease is Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death for women worldwide with Ischemic heart disease taking the number one spot in women’s mortality.

Rates of violence against women remain high, with a frightening estimate that one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime. This places women at greater risk of mental health issues caused by trauma as well as sexually transmitted infections.  

The UN is creating awareness around the issue of women’s rights through setting objectives under UN SDG 5: Gender Equality. GVI runs several women’s empowerment projects worldwide in India, Nepal, Laos and South Africa.

For each women’s empowerment project, our team liaises with women in the community to find out what their needs are and how we can support them in achieving their goals. 

Some women ask for support with running their handicraft businesses, others ask to work on educating young boys and girls about the value of gender equality, while others require computer literacy classes.

Empowerment work in Africa


A number of world statistics highlight a need for additional support in sub-Saharan Africa. This region has the highest child mortality rate and persons living with HIV infection in the world, as well as the most extreme rates of child stunting, the highest number of road traffic fatalities, and the lowest numeracy and literacy rates.

Its population is also one of the fastest-growing, which means more and more people are affected by these issues every day. Some of the widest gaps between income groups and genders can also be found in sub-Saharan Africa.

For this reason, Africa is highlighted as a region requiring additional support. At GVI, we offer a number of community development programs in Africa including South Africa and Ghana. There are also programs in Tanzania, Zambia, and Zanzibar.  

Choose to make an impact by addressing a range of basic needs such as literacy and numeracy, early childhood development, exercise and sports education, preventive health or women’s empowerment.

Global issues that require policy solutions


Certain global issues cannot be solved by on-the-ground, grassroots-style projects. These include the upholding of international law and peace, assisting with the decolonisation of nations, and ensuring the effective running of democracies.

These are the activities that organisations like the UN oversee as a regulatory institution. However, there are a number of policy-level issues that you can join us to work on.

The first is human rights, the basic rights of all people around the world. In our women’s empowerment projects around the world, we provide resources to support women as they learn more about their own rights.

The next is population growth. In our teaching and women’s empowerment projects, we support those who identify as girls and women in their educational development.

It has been shown that by increasing women’s access to education, population growth decreases. In this way, these projects contribute to stabilising the global population.

Climate change is another issue that can be most effectively solved through policy change, as most fossil fuel emissions are produced by factories, electricity production and cars.

However, we work on educating many communities about the importance of protecting the local environment. These communities might then be compelled to select their leaders based on their effective environmental policies.


Take action when and where you can

Now it’s up to you to choose.

You now know which global issues the UN considers most important, and how you can contribute to the UN SDGs. All that’s left to do is pick a GVI program to get started.

Choose the cause you care most about. Working on what you are passionate about means you’re more likely to stick with and put everything you have into the project, resulting in a more fulfilling experience for you, and greater impact on the ground.

If you ever need help choosing a program or advice about fundraising for your volunteering trip, feel free to contact us. Our enrolment advisors spend all day speaking to people just like you, looking to match their purpose to a project out in the world.

Join + save up to GBP 1,000.

Book before 27 May 2022*

what’s up next?

How to cultivate environmental awareness in schools

Read this article for a look at why environmental awareness is important and how to cultivate environmental awareness in schools.

You might also like these articles

The harmful effects of stereotyping: the Mexican stereotype
Read the article
How does women’s empowerment contribute to gender equality?
Read the article
How does women’s empowerment contribute to gender equality?
Women's Empowerment
12 excellent reasons to volunteer
Read the article
Women's Empowerment
Interesting facts about Peru
Read the article
Why local leadership is critical to development projects
Read the article
Service Learning
16 interesting facts about Ghana
Read the article
What languages do people in Peru speak?
Read the article
Quechua: The surviving language of the Inca Empire
Read the article
The top eight volunteer projects for this year
Read the article
Women's Empowerment
The harmful effects of stereotyping: the Mexican stereotype
Read the article
How does women’s empowerment contribute to gender equality?
Read the article
How does women’s empowerment contribute to gender equality?
Women's Empowerment
12 excellent reasons to volunteer
Read the article
Women's Empowerment
Interesting facts about Peru
Read the article